RFID Best Practices

By Mark Roberti

Early adopters have learned many lessons from their RFID rollouts, and we are sharing their dos and don'ts with our readers.

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By Mark Roberti

Jan. 23, 2006―Editors love “sexy” stories. The death of the bar code? Good. Privacy advocates saying Big Retail is acting like Big Brother? Nice. Geeks embedding RFID in their hands? Love it!

The problem with sexy stories, though, is they usually have little or no business value. I’d be lying if I said I never pursued a sexy story in my 20 years in journalism. But as a business writer, I’ve always favored stories that educate people about how to do business better or more efficiently. And that’s why I’m so pleased with last week’s featured story: Plan an RFID Field Trial That Delivers.

Best practices have been hard to come by because so few companies have done large-scale RFID projects, particularly in the open supply chain. But members of EPCglobal’s Pilot and Implementation Working Group do have a lot of experience with pilots. The two leaders of that work group—Nancy Tai, IT manager of innovation R&D at Georgia-Pacific Corp., and Steve Rehling, director of RFID systems at Procter & Gamble (P&G)—shared them with me. (The work group has published the EPCglobal RFID Implementation Cookbook, which gives EPCglobal subscribers many insights into how to deploy EPC technologies successfully.)

What I like about our best practices story is that it gives anyone planning a field trial—the important last step before a pilot implementation—a step-by-step guide that is likely to lead to successful results. A successful field trial is one that accurately determines whether or not the application will deliver a return on investment and, if so, how much it will be.

Many companies already have guides for managing IT projects, but RFID is something of a different animal. One reason: RFID involves physics (making sure RF energy gets to the tag so the tag can be read), IT (making sure that data can be used) and business process change (using data that you probably never had before in ways that let you streamline or enhance the way people do their jobs).

Another big reason RFID supply chain projects are different is that most of the benefits come from collaboration. Pilots have to be designed to take into account the needs and capabilities of business partners. That adds a level of complexity that can be a challenge to manage. And the final reason RFID pilots are different is that they are unusually susceptible to “scope creep.” As soon as you start planning where to put interrogators, people begin thinking of new and novel ways of using them, and field trials often get out of control. That makes it hard to determine the potential ROI from specific applications.

Our best practices story shows you how to define the use case, break down and analyze business processes, estimate the size of the potential benefit, prioritize potential field trials, define the scope, measure the benefits and confirm the return on investment. I believe that those who follow this meticulous process will achieve a better result from their field trial than those who don’t, because they will have a clearer understanding of what the benefit of the application will be.

Steve Rehling of P&G has graciously agreed to share his wisdom and the thinking that went into these best practices at RFID Journal LIVE! 2006 (May 1-3, Las Vegas), where the entire focus of the conference and exhibition is on decidedly non-sexy topics that will help you put RFID to work. Our goal at RFID Journal is to deliver business value by educating people about where RFID can—and can’t—benefit their business. If you want sexy, read Playboy.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.